Maria Carl, USAF 1990-2013
Listen to Maria’s story or read it below.
My name is Maria Carl. I’m retired Air Force and I retired in 2013 after 23 years serving around the world. I began my career on an ROTC scholarship; that’s what got me into the service in the first place. I had a full scholarship to Rhoades College to study International Relations. That was my ticket to go to the school that I wanted to at that time. Then upon graduation from college I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and my first assignment was to the Pacific in Japan. At the time I had been trained as a public affairs officer. I spent 3 years there doing a number of missions around the Pacific. I moved on from there to the Headquarters of the Air Training Command in San Antonio, Texas. From there I also spent a deployment for Operation Provide Comfort in Turkey, in northern Turkey at the time in the late 90’s. It was a coalition between the British, French, Turkish and the US. From there I returned to the Pentagon for the first time to work at the Headquarters Air Staff. At that time I was working a lot with the Air Force’s new branding effort. We were trying to re-brand the US Air Force so that Americans could relate to our role and mission at the time. Keep in mind that this was prior to 9/11. So everything changed after 9/11 but at that time we were still trying to really communicate to the public what the value of the Air Force was. That was my job then and it kind of came with some interesting missions too. We were asked to fly a whale from Oregon to Iceland which we covered. It was actually the whale featured in the film “Free Willy.” So it was of course a good way to get publicity for the Air Force and our capabilities particularly with the C-17 aircraft. But more than that we wanted to showcase the usage capabilities of the C-17. It was the perfect way to do it. Because we got a lot of free publicity for that and certainly there was nothing more unusual than in terms of an out size cargo than a 12,000 lb. whale. That was as a Captain. Then at that point I spent a year with “Nightline ABC,” Ted Koppel’s show and in the Air Force we would often send people to do a one year fellowship with civilian institutions that were similar to what we did in the military to gain better business practices. That was kind of an interesting year. After that I was stationed in Italy at Aviano Air Base in the north part of the country, A NATO base there. We were just finishing up Operation Joint Endeavor at the end of the Balkans so I did a lot of traveling back and forth to Sarajevo and Bosnia and Kosovo. Then it was during that time that 9/11 hit and as I said that really changed everything. From then it was obvious we were in a wartime mode almost exclusively and the last half of my career, the last 12 years or so, were spent in a wartime environment. I was immediately sent back from Italy to the Pentagon, this time to work on the Joint Chiefs of Staff because my boss at the time had been summoned back to work for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs so I came back also to do the same with war planning and public affairs. We geared up at that time for Operation Enduring Freedom. In Afghanistan and then after that we would of course go on to Operation Iraqi Freedom. At the time I worked for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. We did a lot of traveling to all of those locations, to Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting with the troops, talking with Coalition Partners and so on. After that I did a brief stint with the Space Mission down at Cape Canaveral. It was actually the last of the space shuttle missions before they retired the shuttle. I worked primarily with the military rocket launches. They go off the cape there. During that time I was deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan for a year. I was the NATO Head of Information and Public Affairs for the country. In that capacity I will say it was really kind of a cornerstone to my career in so many ways. Not only of course were we in harm’s way during that time but we were working with all of our allies as well. Many different interests and agendas were at play there. We were routinely working 24/7. Literally a 24/7 kind of war. It was an exhausting time but at the same time it was a time you really bonded like a lot of veterans will tell you during their wartime experiences. You have kind of these close comrades in arms and certainly my experiences in Afghanistan are no different and those people that I served with during that year in Afghanistan in particular are just, you know, I could go years without seeing them and then we would be together again and it would be as if no time had passed. We have this really close bond. I think that kinda gets me to some of the benefits I guess of military service. For an individual, for an American serving, it’s of course very satisfying to serve your country. I feel that way it’s also a good feeling to know you’re serving something more than yourself, more than just what you are personally seeking. It’s the people, it really is. Of course you learn a lot in the military. They sent me to undergrad and 3 graduate degrees and countless kinds of training for various kinds of things. It’s wonderful of course for education and training. But it’s also a wonderful kind of laboratory for leadership. You are really obliged to be a leader at all times almost at any rank you are. That comes with a lot of responsibilities and I think that carries through to whatever you do in your life after the service. Then it’s really about the people because the people you serve with are serving right along side you. In some cases they are the ones that have your back. They are the ones who potentially will save your life. In many cases and vice versa and I think that’s the biggest difference, really probably the biggest difference from some of the civilian jobs that some people serve in. It’s just that there is a life and death element in play and that really forges deep bonds and friendships and lot of mutual respect. For me it really gets down to service to country, excellence in all you do and really respect for your fellow service member. I retired in 2013 after 23 years of service and I finally made it back to the Pacific where I first started as a Second Lieutenant and this time I finally made it to Hawaii to the headquarters of the Pacific Air Forces and that seemed like a good place to retire.